Still Sowing, Still Reaping

Heritage Presbyterian Church

July 12, 2020
6th Sunday After Pentecost/15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture reading – Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

When I was about seven years old, I was playing with my best friend, Jerry, at his house.  We got bored – which is never a good thing for two little boys – and so Jerry came up with the idea for a cool activity.  His garage was empty, and the floor was covered with big grease spots from his father’s old truck.  Jerry and I took paper caps, which were long strips of paper with little circles of “caps” for a cap gun, and stretched them across the grease stains.  Then we took his mother’s big box of wooden kitchen matches and lit one end of the cap paper.  The paper would burn across the grease stain popping as it went and catching the grease stain in a small fire…which we would quickly put out by stomping it with our shoes.  This was great fun!  We continued this until Jerry ran out of cap paper, and the box of kitchen matches was almost empty.  Jerry put the box back on his mother’s kitchen shelf, and I went home for dinner. 

Later on, I rode my bike back to Jerry’s house to see if he wanted to play a little more before the day was over.  But when I rode up in his driveway, I was met by his furious mother.  She was yelling at Jerry, and she also started yelling at me.  Quickly, though, she got herself under control and told me to go straight home… she was going to call my mother and tell her what Jerry and I had been doing.

I’m not sure I have ever ridden my bike faster than I did going home that evening.  But it was too late…when I got home and went in the house, I saw my mother talking on the phone to Jerry’s mother.  Her face was pale but her expression was as furious as Jerry’s mother had been.

I still remember the punishment I received…because it was the first and only time I was ever grounded.  I had to stay on our property for two weeks.  I couldn’t watch TV.  I couldn’t have any friends over to play.  I could not go anywhere except for church.  I could not be present if company came over, like my grandparents.  And this was during the summer.

It was torture…but I learned my lesson.  

Let anyone with ears listen!

When I read the parable for today, I especially noticed that line, “Let anyone with ears listen.”  When Jesus said this, he was saying, “You’d better believe it, Mister.”  I remember how long that grounding seemed to take and how Jerry and I avoided each other for a while even after those two weeks were up.

When it came to brains, I was a pretty normal kid; but when it came to common sense, I often learned things the hard way.  

I wonder if I am the only former kid who can say this honestly.  Often, I was reaping what I had sown, and I knew it.

When it comes to the various statements and parables that come from Jesus, I often wonder if we have the brains to listen, hear, and understand; I also wonder if we have the common sense to remember the lessons we learn, especially the ones we learn the hard way.  I wonder if we even realize when we are reaping what we are sowing.  Or do we stand around and wonder, “Boy…this is a mess!”

I have been a student of history since I was a kid, and I continue to be one today.  Which is why it makes me shake my head in disbelief when I see some of the trends that are occurring, the problems that are coming, and yet we are not doing much about it…other than looking for someone to blame.

We human beings often believe that we have control over most of what occurs in our lives, and to a certain extent, I agree with that statement.  We like to think that we sow good seed so that we reap good crops. 

I believe in the God who knows us and loves us, but who often lets us go down a path of our own choosing that later proves to be ruinous.  

I believe in the God who loves us and stands with us – including those times when we cry out in pain, “God! Where are you?”  

And I believe in the God who weeps with us when we suffer heart-breaking loss or devastation.  I believe in that God.

Yet God did not create us so that we could become his mindless robots.  He wants a relationship based on mutual love, not on coercion, bullying, or punishment.  That’s why I am so quick to push back against those who only seem to see the harshness of God, the anger of God, the cruelty of God, the punishment of God.  At first glance, many stories from the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, can appear to show such a God.  The various religious authorities that Jesus was always confronting certainly understood that God.  

But even today, we have many in our society, and even in some of our churches, who use fear instead of love in leading the people.  They even misinterpret the old saying about “fearing God” to mean to be afraid of God.  The actual meaning refers to a sense of respect, awe, and submission to God.  A perfect example comes to us from Exodus.  Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill any male baby who was born to a Hebrew slave, but it is written that the Hebrew midwives “feared God” and so let the Hebrew male newborns live [Exodus 1:16-21].  Yes, perhaps they feared the punishment they would receive from God if they followed Pharaoh’s order, but it was much more than that; they also recognized their part in turning this evil aside.  God rewarded their behavior by giving the midwives their own healthy families!  They kept right on sowing life and reaping life. 

But those who teach “the fear of God” as the literal terror of God’s impending punishment for any sinners are not reaping a crop of God’s love.  

Let anyone with ears listen!

Jesus taught a pretty straightforward parable about sowing seeds.  The sower represents Jesus himself, but it also represents each of his followers who attempt to spread his message.  The seeds represent the beautiful, wonderful words of love that God has for each of us.  The locations where the seeds land represent the various outcomes for seeds that are sown.  But the ending is all wrong.

According to farmers and experts on growing crops, sowing seeds in the method described by Jesus would result in a yield of about 10 bushels of crops for every 1 bushel of seed sown.  According to anthropologists who have studied the ancient Middle East, any farmer sowing normal seeds in a normal field with normal weather and rainfall could expect 7.5 bushels of crops for every 1 bushel of seed sown.  That’s the usual crop. 

But what does Jesus say in his parable?

Jesus said that the sower of his words could expect a yield of 100 times or 60 times or 30 times because of the power of God…not because of the expert methods of the sowers.  I’ll bet that got the attention of any farmers in that crowd, including the religious experts.

But today, we have sowing going on that will reap nothing but the same tired crop of disappointment and limited expectations.  We have churches who are withering and dying out because of the current pandemic.  So they open to in-person worship services, which often only nominally follow any safety guidelines.  And they reap misguided belief in their own power of prayer that God will keep them safe from harm.  

So far, the evidence is against them.  

Let anyone with ears listen.

We have an amazing communication system that allows us to send electronic messages around the world at the speed of light to one another.  We can do banking without ever leaving the house.  Doctors who have diagnosed patients hundreds of miles away in Third World countries are now practicing the same type of medicine in big cities.  We can visit isolated relatives who are often lonely and cannot get out easily.  We can learn just about anything we want to learn with the click of a mouse – cooking, foreign languages, history, art, science, higher-level math – even workout routines!  We can almost literally do it all.

Yet how do most of us use the Internet?  I’ll bet it’s not for the good things, but rather for the mundane things.  I doubt that the Internet the original big thinkers developed is anything like they thought it would be.  I often wonder exactly what the Internet is sowing and exactly what we are reaping.

But it can all change, Christians!  We have ancient lessons from the Son of God that are still relevant today!

Anything good and worthy you can imagine can also be done.

Anything wicked you fear (and I mean fear!) can also be avoided or changed or even eliminated.

Afraid of your neighbors?  Host a block party, go all out with your Halloween decorations, step outside in the Texas heat once in a while, and smile and greet your neighbors.  Really freak them out…wave at them as they drive past you!

Fear the end of the world?  Get a really good book on Revelation and study it with someone who knows it.  Quit watching videos on the Internet that scare you to death.  Ignore those who preach the God of wrath without ever mentioning the God of forgiveness and love.  Ask yourself often: “What kind of God do I serve?”

Does the evening news bother you?  Try changing the channel.  Yes, there is a LOT of garbage on television, and lots of channels with lots of garbage to choose from.  But there is also good stuff, funny stuff, interesting stuff, entertaining stuff.  Be a little picky!  And especially be a little picky with your kids and your grandkids.  Be the same way with what you eat and what you feed your family.  In fact, I wonder if some of the television shows we watch and the food we eat is part of that diminishing yield from the seed that we are sowing…

Let anyone with ears listen – especially if that anyone is named Mark Plunkett.

One final comment for today’s message.  Let’s return to that “scary” section of the Bible, the Old Testament.  Looking very closely at the text reveals something that we should all know.  When the word “understanding” is used in the context and wording of the Old Testament, it means more than just what your brain can comprehend.  It means more than the ability to teach it to others.  It means much more than that.  “Understanding” in the Old Testament means a moral commitment involving one’s inmost self.  This not only goes to what is in your heart but what you are going to do with that understanding.

If we claim to “understand” the various lessons from the Bible, then it might be good to apply an ancient understanding to them – and examine our role in that understanding.

If we claim to be “anyone with ears who is listening,” then we should also apply that understanding to our own lives – our words, our actions, and especially our hearts.

If we can do that, Christians, then we will certainly reap 30x what we sow, or 60x what we sow, or even a 100x what we sow.

And the Master Gardener will be pleased!